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Common Law Marriage Oregon

Common Law Marriage Oregon

Common Law Marriage in Oregon: Myth or Reality?

For most Americans, the concept of common law marriage is a romantic notion that evokes images of old-fashioned values and a simpler way of life. However, this legal institution is far from being simple or well-understood. In Oregon, like in many other states, common law marriage is a contentious issue that raises important questions about family law, property rights, and social expectations. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the fascinating history of common law marriage in Oregon, its current status and limitations, and the challenges and opportunities it presents for couples who choose to forego traditional marriage.

The Origins of Common Law Marriage

To understand common law marriage, we must go back in time to the origins of the legal system that governs it. Common law is a body of legal principles and customs that originated in medieval England, and that has evolved over centuries of use and interpretation. Unlike statutory law, which is codified by legislatures, common law is based on previous court decisions and judgments, and is meant to reflect the evolving moral and social values of society. One of the most enduring principles of common law is the concept of marriage by consent, which holds that two people who agree to live together as husband and wife are legally married, even if they have not undergone any formal ceremony or obtained a marriage license.

The idea of common law marriage was imported to the United States by colonists, and has been recognized by many states since the early 19th century. In general, a common law marriage is established when two people have lived together for a certain period of time, usually several years, and have presented themselves as a married couple to their family, friends, and community. Although the exact requirements vary by state, the key elements of common law marriage are cohabitation, mutual consent, and holding themselves out as married.

Common Law Marriage in Oregon: The Basics

In Oregon, common law marriage is not recognized by statute, meaning that there is no specific law that defines or regulates it. However, the state does acknowledge common law marriages that were formed in other states where they are recognized, and that meet the requirements of Oregon law. Additionally, Oregon courts have recognized several cases involving unmarried couples who claimed common law marriage, and have applied the principles of common law to determine the validity of their relationships.

To be eligible for recognition as a common law spouse in Oregon, the couple must meet the following criteria:

– They must be at least 18 years old and competent to enter into a contract;

– They must have lived together for a significant period of time, usually seven years or more, though there is no fixed requirement;

– They must have presented themselves to others as being married, using phrases such as “husband” or “wife,” and holding themselves out as a couple;

– They must have manifested an intent to form a permanent, exclusive relationship, with the expectation of sharing a life together, and commingling their financial and personal affairs;

– They must have entered into the relationship voluntarily, without duress, fraud, or coercion;

– They must have had the capacity to consent to the relationship, meaning that they were not under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or mental illness at the time.

If these conditions are met, a common law marriage may be established, and the parties may have the same rights and obligations as if they were legally married. This includes property rights, inheritance, the right to make medical decisions for each other, and the ability to sue for wrongful death or loss of consortium. However, unlike a traditional marriage, a common law marriage cannot be dissolved by divorce, and the parties may need to obtain a court order or to file a lawsuit to resolve property disputes or other issues.

The Pros and Cons of Common Law Marriage in Oregon

As with any legal arrangement, common law marriage has its benefits and drawbacks, and couples should carefully consider their options before deciding to enter into it. Here are some of the pros and cons of common law marriage in Oregon:


Flexibility: Common law marriage allows couples to avoid the formalities and expenses of a traditional wedding and to create a relationship that is tailored to their needs and preferences. They can choose to live together or apart, to have children or not, and to structure their finances and property ownership as they see fit.

Recognition: If a common law marriage is legally recognized in Oregon or in another state, the parties can enjoy the same rights and protections as married couples, including access to healthcare, social security, and other benefits.

Informality: Common law marriage can be a good option for couples who value privacy and independence, and who want to avoid the social and legal expectations that come with traditional marriage. They can define their own roles and responsibilities, and be free from public scrutiny or judgment.

Legal remedies: Common law marriage can provide a legal framework for resolving disputes and protecting each other’s interests, especially in cases of separation or death. By establishing a clear intention to be married, the couple can avoid the uncertainty and acrimony that can arise when one partner claims that the other was only a roommate or a casual acquaintance.


Uncertainty: Common law marriage is a complex and often unpredictable legal concept, and its recognition and enforcement may depend on a variety of factors, including the state of residence, the length of the relationship, and the interpretation of the courts. In Oregon, common law marriage is a controversial topic, and many judges and legal scholars have expressed doubts about its validity or fairness.

No safety net: Unlike legally married couples, common law spouses do not have automatic rights to alimony, child support, or property distribution in case of a breakup or a death. They may need to prove their relationship in court, and to provide evidence of their financial and emotional contributions.

Lack of clarity: Because common law marriage is not defined or regulated by Oregon law, there may be confusion or disagreement about what constitutes a valid or binding relationship. This can lead to disputes over property, debts, and other legal matters, and can affect the lives of the children, friends, and relatives of the couple.

Social stigma: While common law marriage is becoming more accepted and popular in some circles, it still carries a stigma in many parts of society, especially among older people and traditionalists. Some people may view it as a sign of moral laxity, indecisiveness, or lack of commitment, and may treat common law spouses differently from legally married couples.

Recent Developments in Common Law Marriage in Oregon

As mentioned earlier, common law marriage in Oregon is a complex and contested topic, with many legal, social, and emotional implications. In recent years, there have been several developments that have impacted the recognition and regulation of common law marriage in the state. Here are some of the most significant ones:

Domestic partnership laws: In 2007, Oregon became one of the first states to enact a domestic partnership law, which allowed same-sex couples to register with the state and enjoy some of the same legal benefits and protections as married couples. While domestic partnerships are not equivalent to common law marriages, they have provided a legal framework for recognition and support of non-traditional relationships.

Court rulings: In a landmark case in 1997, the Oregon Court of Appeals recognized a common law marriage between two men, despite the fact that Oregon law did not allow for same-sex marriage at the time. Since then, several other Oregon courts have applied the principles of common law marriage to unmarried couples of different genders, in cases involving paternity, property division, and other issues.

Legislative proposals: Over the years, there have been several attempts to clarify or codify the status of common law marriage in Oregon. In 2017, a bill was introduced in the Oregon Legislature to create a statutory framework for common law marriage, but it did not pass. Some observers argue that such a law would enhance the predictability and transparency of common law marriage, while others warn that it would undermine the flexibility and informality that has made common law marriage attractive to many couples.


Common law marriage in Oregon is a complex and evolving legal concept that raises many important questions about family law, property rights, and societal expectations. While it is not explicitly recognized by Oregon law, it can have significant legal and practical implications for couples who choose to forego traditional marriage but still want to create a lasting and meaningful relationship. As with any legal arrangement, common law marriage requires careful thought, planning, and communication, and it may benefit from the guidance of legal professionals and advisors. Whether common law marriage is a myth or reality in Oregon, it remains a fascinating and resilient aspect of American legal culture, and a testament to the enduring power of love and commitment.


Guide to Common Law Marriage in Oregon

Many cohabiting couples believe that their relationship qualifies as a common-law marriage in OR.

If you believe you are in this type of relationship, or you want to know how to enter into a common-law marriage in Oregon, you need to understand the state’s marriage laws.

This guide will teach you about current laws surrounding common law marriage in OR so that you can be informed about your own rights in a cohabiting relationship.

For more in-depth information or legal advice about your specific situation, you may want to contact a family Oregon lawyers who can answer your questions about common law marriage in Oregon

History of Common Law Marriage

Common-law marriage began in England centuries ago. Although most couples in medieval times married in a church, marriages were considered valid according to the country’s unwritten (“common”) laws even if a couple had said their vows privately, without witnesses.

In many U.S. states, the common law tradition continued, and couples who cohabited and “held themselves out” as husband and wife by taking the same name and filing joint tax returns could be considered common-law married.

When a couple had a common-law marriage, they were allowed all of the rights of married couples. They also were required to file standard divorce papers and could not break up their relationship without going through divorce proceedings. Unlike most states, common law marriage in OR was never approved by the legislature or judiciary.

Is Common Law Marriage in Oregon Currently Legal?

Common-law marriage in OR, like in several other states, has never been a recognized arrangement. While nothing prohibits a cohabiting couple from describing each other as husband and wife, no legal recognition for common law marriage in Oregon exists and couples will not have the protections of marriage regardless of how long they have cohabited or whether they have children.

Because there are no statutes legalizing common law marriage in OR, couples who have been cohabiting do not have to file for divorce (and in fact, a divorce petition would be rejected by the courts).

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage in Oregon

Many people do not know that there is no legal common law marriage in OR and believe they have the protections of marriage when in fact they do not.

If you want to have some of the benefits of a common-law marriage in Oregon without actually taking wedding vows, you may have to consult with a family attorney.

A family attorney may be able to help you and your partner establish a partnership contract, medical power of attorney, or other legal relationship that can give you some similar benefits to marriage.

Out of State Common Law Marriages

While common law marriage in OR is not recognized if the marriage is contracted in the state, ten states and the District of Columbia do still allow common-law marriages.

If you were legally common law married in another jurisdiction, you can still continue your common law marriage in Oregon.